A few magicians have mentioned lately that they believe the popularity of magic may fall on hard times again due to the sheer volume of videos on YouTube either teaching it or performing it. A number of my peers have mentioned this to me as well as people, in general, asking my opinion on the matter so I thought I’d take the time to have a go at putting my thoughts across.
As you may well know I have a couple of YouTube channels myself concerning magic, one where I perform a lot of old tricks that are collecting dust in my garage (Garage Trick Tuesday), which has been going nearly 2 years now and another connected to my new business venture Letterbox Magic. The first is purely magic performance videos and the latter is more focussed on teaching magic to people who really want to learn. As you can see, neither are into mega subscribers yet, far from it, but I’m hoping these will grow over time with people interested in that specific content rather than some of the alternatives I am going to talk about.
There are literally thousands of performance videos from budding magicians out there and I say go for it! What an opportunity to perform for thousands of people and get feedback on your magic, I for one wish I had that luxury when I was learning. Many semi-pro and pro magicians also use YouTube to showcase their talents and share them with the world, it’s certainly is a fantastic tool.
The only issues I think bother me with the whole concept of Performance Videos are the ones where the performer has clearly just watched a Reveal Video (see below) then attempted the trick with no practice, substituting practice for just re-taking filming until they get lucky, then uploading the video for quick gratification. Worse still, in some cases, not getting lucky and revealing the secret by accident but uploading the video anyway as they don’t really care due to not having any investment into the trick in the first place. This sort of activity doesn’t help or develop them as a performer and certainly doesn’t help the popularity of magic for those who prefer to watch rather than perform themselves. The entertainment value which is generally provided by the performer’s confidence and therefore ability to concentrate on presentation is completely non-existent.
Don’t get me wrong on this, there are learners uploading videos of performances they’ve clearly put a great deal of time into practising and this I can only commend in the highest possible way, they’re utilising a great opportunity to practice performing their skills and get some feedback. I would suggest to a few budding magicians that they do this but perhaps consider uploading the videos to “safe” audiences where they’re not going to accidentally reveal the secret to everyone on their YouTube channel by performing it before it’s ready. You don’t want to spend hours perfecting something and show the world flawlessly but they already know how it works as you uploaded a video of you not performing it well a few weeks ago. This method of performing to a “safe” audience is the equivalent of me showing tricks I’d learnt over and over again to my dad and brother as a kid before I showed them to anyone else.
By “safe” audiences I mean other magicians or trusted friends, you can either set the video upload to private and send a link to your friends or there are lots of private Facebook groups for magicians (just drop me a message if you need help finding them, I’ve set up one especially for Letterbox Magic Members too). One thing I will say though is to listen and respond to any feedback, there are some great knowledge people are willing to share, and they get really upset when their input is ignored if it’s no help at all just be polite and say thanks.
I’ve done a lot of research into this whilst getting everything together for Letterbox Magic and my decision for how to go about running my own channel goes completely against the findings from that research as to what is the most popular style/format of videos to be uploading. The right business decision in this area would be the wrong decision for what I believe my companies message should be and more importantly, the way I’d be happy to do things. I’ll start from the bottom and work up to what I am trying to do.
Cheap Shameless Reveals
These are the videos that I point blank do not agree with (I’ll write another article on The Masked Magician TV series of the 90s and why I think that was different). They are basically people just revealing secrets for the sake of it, sometimes secrets that don’t even belong to them, where’s the fun or fairness in that. In my lifetime of performance, magic has never been about getting one over on the audience and fooling them to make them feel like idiots, maybe it was at one time but not for a long time. Magicians are there to entertain and the secret to how a trick is done is the tiniest and often least impressive part of the whole process. The difficulty and skill are in the practice to make this minor thing into something amazing to delight and entertain audiences. A cheap reveal of that tiny element completely belittles the entire piece and ruins it for everyone (the magician as well as the audience). My message to these guys has just stopped it, stop it now, you’re ruining everyone’s fun and insulting the art of magic! [end mini rant]
Cannon Fodder Reveals
These are massive, you’re talking subscribers up to over a million and hundreds of thousands to millions of views on each video within a few days so why do I want to avoid this type of video for Letterbox Magic? I believe that these are the types of videos that are causing flippancy among people trying to learn magic. They’ve basically titled thing like “10 magic tricks with spoons” but with a total length of about 15 minutes. How on earth can you show the effect of a trick and explain how to perform it in 1-2 minutes, it’s just not possible. The massive amount of elements that go into every trick; sleight of hand, angles, patter, misdirection, gimmicks . . . the list goes on. It’s impossible to learn how to perform a trick properly from this type of video which leads to the type of performance video I mentioned earlier. A person learns the bare bones of a trick, they perform it badly, they get a poor reaction, they discard it and move onto the next. This means they never perfect anything and soon lose interest or start to annoy people who are interested in watching magic, causing them to lose interest.
Full Tuition Videos
Woohoo, the way to go to encourage budding magicians to learn magic properly and continue to develop that interest. This is exactly what I am going for with the Letterbox Magic Channel and I’ve found a couple out there that opt for a similar format. You’ll see for example that the first trick uploaded on there, The Balancing Banknote, is 9 minutes long, 7 minutes of which is an in-depth explanation of how to perform the trick properly. I believe that taking the time to do this and learn a trick properly will pay the magician back in spades (pun intended), the reactions they get will be far better as the trick will be far more entertaining and so they’ll want to learn more. As a point of comparison, the same trick was given a total of 1:03 in a Cannon Fodder Reveal video I found, it’s just not possible to teach or learn it properly in that time.
So I don’t believe YouTube necessarily has to be killing magic. Poor quality or dull performances in the public domain aren’t the greatest help with maintaining and developing the popularity of magic and certain methods of teaching are encouraging this bad practice. However, I still feel the positives massively outweigh the negatives and I’m hoping I can help further these positives as I grow the You Tube branch of Letterbox Magic. Magic has been around as an art form for thousands of years and has always had to move with the times to survive. We as magicians are currently still adapting to the relatively new world of social media channels, refining ideas and developing methods to use these opportunities in the best and most effective way.
If you’d like to read more a little more on the subject CLICK HERE for an article from The Independent my friend Paul shared with us on the Letterbox Magic Facebook Page. It’s safe to say I definitely side more with Will Houstoun than Jamie Raven on this one.
So there you go, the grounding of my opinion on the subject, I’m aware it goes on a while but as I say, I’ve been doing a fair bit of research and feel there’s quite a lot to it. I’m by no means an expert just yet because, as you can see, the Letterbox Magic channel is very much in its infancy so I’d love to hear your comments and thoughts too. Feel free to comment below and as always, if you need any help, just ask.
Matt, October 2016